Petraeus Air Force Joke
General David Petraeus made a funny at the expense of the Air Force in his remarks at the Marine Corps Association Foundation dinner last month:
Come to think of it, in fact another bedrock element of the Marine Corps is unquestionably having the best recruiting ads on television. [Laughter] But this concept is not just an advertisement. The marines’ sense of toughness permeates the Corps’ lore as well as its reality. To recall an illustrative story, a soldier is trudging through the muck in the midst of a downpour with a 60-pound rucksack on his back. This is tough, he thinks to himself. Just ahead of him trudges an Army ranger with an 80-pound pack on his back. This is really tough, he thinks. And ahead of him is a Marine with a 90-pound pack on, and he thinks to himself, I love how tough this is. [laughter, applause] Then, of course, 30,000 feet above them — [laughter] — 30,000 feet above them an Air Force pilot flips aside his ponytail. [laughter, applause] Now — I’m sorry. I don’t know how that got in there — [laughter] — I know they haven’t had ponytails in a year or two — [laughter] — and looks down at them through his cockpit as he flies over. Boy, he radios his wingman, it must be tough down there. [laughter] Well, TV commercials and all joking aside, we’ve all seen that marines truly and consistently live up to their reputation.”
Some ponytailed desk jockey at the Air Force Association got his panties in a bunch, penning an editorial about how these remarks were “Beyond Outrageous.” Not only does this joke hurt the widdle feewings of our boys in baby blue, “They are symptomatic of the long-held belief of many ground commanders that airpower is no longer, if it ever was, relevant.”
As SFC Hulka so aptly put it, “Lighten up, Francis.”
Matt Yglesias sees this as a “crisis” and foreshadowing a greater problem ahead. Robert Farley says it shows “a certain insecurity” in the Air Force and Yglesias thinks it exists for good reason. The service has always operated in relative safety — as Matt says, that’s rather the point of air power — and the increasing use of unmanned drones takes that to the ultimate conclusion. Naturally, “A service that consists of guys sitting in cubicles playing video games is going to have trouble holding its head high amidst a warrior ethos.”
But most people in the Air Force have been office workers since its inception as a separate service. Truth be told, most soldiers and sailors do non-trigger-puller jobs, too. They maintain a warrior ethos by focusing on the team and the larger mission. And the non-warriors tend to make fun of the warriors on different grounds entirely, as demonstrated from these comments taken from an Air Force website by TIME’s Mark Thompson:
“What an idiot,” one airman fumed on an unofficial Air Force website. “I vote that we should pack our [stuff] and come home. Let the Army march to where they need to go, use artillery for close air support, and medevac on Fed Ex.” A colleague agreed: “As the Big Guy he should be pulling us together, not widening the abyss.” But one contributor claiming to be a more senior officer dissented. “Believe me, if the military is dumb enough to make me a General, you can bet your ass I will be cracking jokes about homo Navy guys, criminal Army types and borderline retarded Marines,” he wrote. “It’s all in good fun, and I think his was, too.” Another poster concurred: “Remember, he is from the service that has to use comic books to teach soldiers how to do periodic maintenance.”
Petraeus’ joke is straight out of the senior officers’ playbook. (Some more off-color versions are available in Farley’s comment section.) I’ve heard retired Marine General Jim Jones tell similar jokes at the Air Force’s expense with retired USAF Lt.Gen. Brent Scowcroft in the room, to the approving laughter of the latter. Why? Because Scowcroft and Jones obviously hold each other in the highest personal and professional esteem and understand that these jokes are told in good fun. Let some outsider make fun of the Air Force in his presence, though, and Jones would be sure to set them straight.
The warrior culture is similar to that found in a locker room. It uses brutal humor to lighten the tension and test the mettle of one’s fellows. Airborne troops make fun of dirty nasty legs. Combat arms troops crack jokes about REMFs, the rear-echelon so-and-sos. The Army disparages the Marines and vice versa. In the Air Force, it’s pilots and everybody else. In the Navy, it’s Line and other. But anyone much above the level of an entering recruit understands that it’s all one big operation.
Nobody appreciates the value of the support team more than a combat infantryman. They’re utterly dependent on everyone else for sustaining their lives and achieving their mission. As a rocket artillery officer during Desert Storm, I can assure you that every soldier to a man I talked to was happy for every Navy and Air Force sortie flying over us during the opening weeks of the war. Yes, we made fun of them because they got to go back to their air conditioned comfort when their mission was over while we were sweating it in the desert heat. But every bomb dropped or missile fired saved the lives of countless soldiers and marines.